OUAGADOUGOU – Gunmen killed six people, including a priest, outside a Catholic church in Burkina Faso on Sunday, the government said, the second attack on Christians in two weeks in a nation increasingly overrun by jihadis.
Congregants were leaving church around 9 a.m. in the town of Dablo in Centre-Nord province when about 20 men encircled them and shot six dead, according to a government statement and local sources.
The attackers then burned the church, looted a pharmacy and some others stores, and left, Dablo Mayor Ousmane Zongo said. The government statement only mentioned the burning of a shop and two vehicles.
“These terrorist groups are now attacking religion with the macabre aim of dividing us,” it said.
Burkina Faso has been beset by a rise in attacks in 2019 as groups with links to Islamic State and al-Qaida based in neighboring Mali seek to fuel local tensions and extend their influence over the porous borders of the Sahel, the arid scrubland south of the Sahara.
The government declared a state of emergency in several northern provinces bordering Mali in December because of deadly Islamist attacks.
But violence has only worsened since. Two French soldiers were killed last week during an operation to rescue four people taken hostage in Burkina Faso, France said. Over 100,000 people in the country have been displaced by unrest this year, the United Nations has said.
Roughly 55 percent to 60 percent of Burkina Faso’s population is Muslim, with up to a quarter Christian. The two groups generally live in peace and frequently intermarry.
But, in late April, unidentified gunmen killed a pastor and five congregants at a Protestant church, also in the north, suggesting the violence was taking a religious turn.